The Ozarks Area Community Action Corp. has two programs that help students understand real-life situations and to help them explore several careers.

REALL

Several students in the Dallas County R-1 School District were exposed to a glimpse of the future at two OACAC-sponsored events during February.

The entire seventh-grade class at Buffalo Prairie Middle School participated in a Reality Enrichment And Life Lessons simulation on Feb. 9. The REALL project is a hands-on simulation designed to challenge youth to think critically about how choices and decisions made in adolescence may have consequences in adulthood. 

The simulation requires the students to meet adult-level responsibilities such as going to work, budgeting and paying bills, and caring for children. At the beginning, each student receives a packet that describes his or her individual “adult life.” The first session, called the reactive life, has the students trying to make their way through a life resulting from poor decisions made during youth, like dropping out of school, obtaining criminal records and unwise budgeting.

The second half of the event, known as the proactive life, offers a life that is based on positive choices during adolescence. Particularly it shows students that graduating from high school, continuing education, staying drug-free and making good choices can lead to better paying jobs, less stress and ways to accumulate and save money.

“I didn't realize how hard it must be for my mom and dad having to take care of things every month,” said one student at the event.

REALL addresses many of the competencies identified by the Missouri State Board of Education. The program:

• Helps students identify components and sources of income; 

• Analyzes how career choice, education, skills and economic conditions affect income and goal attainment; 

• Relates taxes, government transfer payments, and employee benefits to disposable income; 

• Explains how financial resources affect the choices people make.

Kathy Banks, Family Resource Specialist at OACAC’s Dallas County Neighborhood Center and facilitator for the program at Buffalo schools, said, “I like this program because I can introduce our youth to the possibilities and the pitfalls of life and educate them about good choices and resources. If we can reach even one or two students, it’s all worth it.”

The students have eight 15-minute intervals in which they need to take care of such things as work their job, pay their rent and utilities, buy groceries, pick up their children from day care and budget their money. They discover that taking care of responsibilities in a prioritized manner makes for a better life.

 “After doing this today, I need to go home and give my mom and dad a big hug and tell them that I’m sorry,” said another participant. “I’m always asking for things like expensive name-brand clothes and shoes, and now I know that they’re doing their best. I feel like I learned a lot and maybe understand things a little better. I will be thinking more about my choices.”

VOICE

Fourth graders at D.A. Mallory Elementary learned about six different careers through an interactive, hands-on experience called Vocational Opportunities Inspiring Children in Elementary on February 22. The VOICE program was created by OACAC to expose young students to the possibilities of career choices and to instill in them the importance of education and academic achievement. 

Research indicates that low-income children are not exposed to the wide range of professions available that would lead to breaking the cycle of poverty, so through the VOICE program, children of all income levels encounter the event together. The implication of no boundaries or limitations to anyone, as long as they study hard and move toward their goal, is reinforced. 

During the VOICE event, the fourth graders got to visit with professionals from Dickerson Park Zoo, Sunbelt Environmental Services, Creator Designs, Buffalo Eye Clinic, The Buffalo Reflex and The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. The professionals explained what they did in their job, and then shared hands-on activities relating to their career. 

The hour-long event enabled groups of 10 to 14 students to spend 10 minutes at each station. Some of the activities included handling reptiles, mixing water-absorbing materials, designing an individual advertisement and more.

“I learned that you need to know and like math and science to be a zookeeper and to be in the industrial and technology career path,” said one fourth-grader.

Another student said, “I thought it was interesting to learn every single part of your eye and what each part does.”

Each of the students left the event with their own passport that had been stamped for each station visit. The passport had follow-up questions and parental conversation-starters to promote the interests that had been sparked in the children at the event. 

“Overall, students were engaged and had a great time,” said fourth-grade teacher Heather Sitton. “This is an awesome program and I enjoyed seeing my students actively thinking about their future.”

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